The Ronin, Fukitso, returns in...

Fukitso and the Golden Egg

A 9-Chapter Sword & Sorcerer of the Mighty Ronin!

by Jeffrey Blair Latta

Chapter One - Thus, He is Dangerous

"YOU PAY ME WELL TO PROTECT YOU," admitted Fukitso, exasperation transforming his voice into an almost animal growl.  "And that I will do.  But my task is made no simpler if you continue to ignore my warnings!"

The dark-skinned Ronin towered broodingly before the marble-white throne of Hayai-Kuchi, ruling Ichiba to all Dos-Yamura.  His massive but well-wrought physique, his simple but practical attire held him apart from and foreign to the ivory vastness of his more civilized surroundings.  Many an alien had there been who had quaked with awe before the grandiose architecture of this room.  Yet the menacing giant remained untouched.  Even here he was the supreme symbol of savage adaptability, at once coarse, yet fiercely inevitable.

On his feet he wore thick grass sandals.  He carried two swords, both in black lacquered scabbards.  The shorter, bound by his belt, was a wakizashi.  This he called Kyodai.  The longer, worn down his back, was christened Ginago -- in his native tongue...Silver Jaw, because of its distinctive silver wrist guard.

Bound about his waist was a wide beetle-embroidered gadoro -- which in itself was a blatant testimoniall to his fighting prowess.  For, to carry one's wealth so ostentatiously displayed as on a gadoro was to openly invite attack from any of the ruffian bands which frequented the stone streets of Kari-Zak.

About his broad and thickly-muscled torso he wore a black open overmantle with wide shoulders burned stiff by the sun.  A flowing grey kimono and baggy-legged hakama completed his costume.  His scalp was shaven, with a topknot and his features were harsh and worn but hardly surprising for his twenty-two years.

His nose was wide and flat, his lips thin and fierce, and his weathered skin molded firmly to his high, well-shaped cheekbones.  But by far his most distinguishing trait (other than his height) lay in his cold, slanting eyes.  Those eyes at no time appeared to focus on the object of his gaze.  Almost blind seeming, in battle, this deformity was much to his advantage, for what foe could hope to defeat a man whose eyes gave no hint of his present strategy, let alone that to come?  Men whispered that, in truth, he gazed upon Iemekai, Lord of Chaos, who then instructed his servant where and when to strike.  Whether true or no, his random gaze had earned him well his name: Fukitso, the unpredictable.

Fukitso was yet still new to the craft and double-talk of the court.  He was a man of action and so despised delay in others.  The man before him had done nothing but delay since Fukitso had arrived the previous season from the East.  And, thus, the latter found himself hard put to control his mounting impatience.

The Ichiba, in contast, was a man of words.  To him, appearances were all.  And so, seated upon his marble throne, clothed in a rich cloak of samadhi pelt, his crafty eyes surveyed the seething Ronin with apparent indifference.

"And what would you have me do?" asked the Ichiba cynically.  "Would you have me place the full forces of the Zaki at your disposal?  So we crush this supposed revolt -- what then?  Must I keep watch over every village, every hovel?  Keep the Zaki ever on hand for fear the peasants may rise up again?"

Fukitso grunted with the frustration of trying to explain himself in the alien tongue of the Ioni.

"You need not crush the revolt," he replied.  "Grant me enough men to patrol the riverbank.  Show the people that you care and the revolt will never take shape."

"Patrol against what?" asked the Ichiba derisively.  It is the season of fire.  The fungal forests lie in ruin of brown decay.  There is no shelter from the cloudless sky.  The Bunda dare not venture from their villages until the clouds return and the rains once more drench the rotted vastness.  By that time, I will be finished campaigning in the south, and shall pursue them not only across the river Zamba, but to the very foot of the plateau, if need be."

"The damage is already done!" thundered Fukitso.  "During the season of life, before I arrived, your neglect of the peasants cost them dearly.  The Bunda raided at will, carrying off women, children and food.  The people could not save enough crops, and now that their bins are empty, they must either sell themselves into Bunda slavery or subsist on the few sun-blackened grasses capable of surviving the season.  They are desperate and miserable.  And, being so, blame their hardship on you.  Therefore, you must make amends.  Show them that you are aware of their plight."

"How do you know this?" asked the Ichiba suspiciously.  "You seem very knowledgable concerning this revolt."

"Because I have often gone among the peasants," answered the giant with naive candidness.  "I have just returned from one such foray now.  Dressed in simple attire, rather than the heavy beetle-armour of your Zaki, a man may hear much.  The kurabu are filled with drunken boasters -- who may notice one more attentive ear?"

The Ichiba frowned, apparently displeased, but again the look was replaced with a mask of indifference and he nodded.

"Very well.  The half-breeds feel that I have neglected them.  Do they not realize that to protect them I must have Zaki and to pay the Zaki I must have more lands to feed the treasury?  It is not enough to claim sovereignty over Dos-Yamura, I must have payment.  By collecting tribute in the south, I am taking some of the burden off their worthless shoulders.  If I were to withdraw from the south, I would need to raise the taxes.  Then how could they afford even the 'sun-blackened grasses' they survive on now?  Slavery would increase.  The Hill of the Sun would be blackened by the bodies of the debtors.  Is that what they truly desire?  I think not!"

Fukitso clenched his great fists with supressed fury and frowned darkly, but he did not speak.  Still, the gesture did not go unnoticed by the Ichiba.  Down the broad back of the Ronin hung his long-bladed katana, Ginago, the "Silver Jaw".  Strange things were whispered of that blade, stories of unholy magic and a weird alien metal forged by dark priests then quenched in the blood of a god!  Its gleaming length was inscribed with arcane hieroglyphs, writing in an ancient and forgotten language of whose meaning even the priests of Doji were ignorant.

It was said to be alive.

Perhaps they were just that, mere stories.  But the Ichiba had reason enough to be wary of that gleaming blade.  The gruesome image of Fukitso's predecessor, his head half-severed from his body, remained vividly etched in the ruler's memory.  It was for such deed that Fukitso, his hands still crimson with the gore of his encounter, was offered the post of Niban (that post now being free), second only to the Ichiba and sharing that post privilege with only two others.  Hayai-Kuchi, the Ichiba, was not anxious to arouse the Ronin's ire.  To attack the Ichiba in his own throne room would be tantamount to suicide.  But then, so had been this strange-eyed savage's unexpected slaying of the Niban.

Hayai-Kuchi shifted uneasily in his throne and decided that this interview was best ended with haste.

"As you can see," he said diplomatically, "I cannot supply more Zaki.  At least, not until I have secured the south.  With the aid of my conjuring ally --" At this, Fukitso grunted. "-- this will be soon.  In the meantime, I have already executed their priestess.   Fear of my divine strength should hold most in line.  It is for you to hold those few not swayed by this form of persuasion.  Tonight, so my spies tell me, the ringleaders will be meeting in the home of Takai-Yadoya."

"You must have excellent spies," muttered Fukitso.  "I have heard no such thing."

"They suffice," replied Hayai-Kuchi simply.  "For your part, you will take a group of trustworthy Zaki and arrest the lot as traitors.  We will make an adequate example of them to discourage future plotting.  Is this acceptable to you?"

"Yoi desu, Ichiba," replied Fukitso, kneeling briefly before the throne with wrists properly place to his forehead and palms turned outward.

Of course, the question had merely been rhetorical and equivalent to a dismissal.  To have responded in any way other than the affirmative, even to have further argued his position, would have meant instant death by the short-swords of the sombre Zaki which flanked the Ichiba on either hand.  Yet, even so, to respond so informally as with the expression, "yoi desu", even for a Niban, suggested familiarity above his station.  It had been a very subtle but very real insult to the Ichiba, if not an open challenge, and the Zaki eagerly fingered their sword hilts, merely awaiting the word to quell this Ronin's insolence.  But, to their surprise, Hayai-Kuchi gave no indication of having noticed the breech in etiquette, and the confident giant strode from the throne room without hinderance.

Yet, nary had the richly embroidered tapestries closed behind the departing figure than Hayai-Kuchi signalled to a nearby Zaki, who hastily stepped to the foot of the throne and knelt with extreme care and formality.  He would not have have been the first to receive punishment for the insolence of a superior.

"Summon Zaki-Iwaba," ordered the Ichiba.  "I would have conference with him."

"Chiisai mashita, Ichiba," responded the Zaki, much relieved, and he hurriedly sped from the chamber to fulfill his appointed task.

For several moments, Hayai-Kuchi sat with fingers tented before his lips and eyes gazing thoughtfully but unseeing at the golden images displayed upon his purple hangings.  Then the gentle rustle of parting curtains brought awareness to his sight like flame to grass, and a black-robed figure stole silently to his side from an alcove behind the throne.

"So, Kurocho," said the Ichiba after a pause.  "You have heard?"

The dark figure nodded silently.

"Then it seems, my mystical ally, that your fears were well-founded.  It was a mistake to raise a foreigner to the rank of Niban.  His alien blood makes him too popular with the peasants and too sympathetic to their cause.  He is ambitious and arrogant.  And, thus, he is dangerous."

For a time, he fell silent, lost in deep remembrance, his narrow gaze squinted as if at a brilliant light.  Then he laughed.

"But what disturbs me most," he confided, "is his eyes.  Those chilling inhuman orbs.  I have always felt that one may read the soul of a man through his eyes.  Those who gaze unflinchingly are strong-willed but ambitious, useful but worthy of watching.  Those who drop their eyes are harmless, but also quite useless.  But this wanderer -- this grim masterless Samurai -- he neither stares nor flinches.  He merely...sees without being seen.  I like the sensation not at all."

With a gusty sigh, he adjusted his position on the marble seat, drawing his cloak close about his shoulders as if to ward off some intangible chill.

"Yes.  Tonight I shall have him arrested on a charge of treason.  Zaki-Iwaba will provide his temporary replacement.  At least he drops his eyes.  But not until Fukitso has fulfilled his task and brought me the ringleaders of the revolt."

Suddenly Hayai-Kuchi turned upon the kurocho with a scowl hideous with menace.

"You are quite sure, my friend," he hissed, "that all the ringleaders will be there?  It would be most unfortunate were any to remain free while the Zaki are in the south.  I dislike a revolt when I am so lightly defended.  But, then, I think you know quite well the penalty for betraying my confidence."

Slowly the Ichiba placed a jewelled hand among the folds of his samadhi mantle and drew forth a gleaming, golden egg intricately inscribed with strange, loathsome patterns.  For a brief instant, the light glanced like fire from its polished surface, and, imperceptibly from beneath the ebony cloak, the kurocho gave a sharp intake of breath.

Then, as quickly as it had appeared, the egg was gone and the Ichiba laughed with unsmiling eyes.

"I have no illusions about your power, Kurocho," he chuckled.  "It is best if you have none about mine."


Next episode: A Sinister Gift

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Fukitso and the Golden Egg is copyright Jeffrey Blair Latta.  It is reprinted here with the author's permission.